Pride Blog Series Day 16 – Caren Werlinger

Author photo1My thanks to Liz for inviting me to participate in this Pride Blog series. Like some other authors who’ve blogged here, I’ve never attended a Pride march. I can appreciate the sense of camaraderie and, well, pride that those who attend must experience, but I’ve never felt the need.

Several years ago, I was flipping through television channels and came across a gay author speaking on C-Span. I don’t remember who he was or the title of his book (sorry), but I do clearly remember a portion of his speech. He was being taped speaking to an assembled crowd in an auditorium, and he asked the people in attendance to raise their hands if they were out to family, friends and co-workers. About half of the people in the auditorium raised their hands. To those who hadn’t, he said (I don’t recall the exact words, but it went something like this), “Go home. Coming to events like this, donating money to LGBT causes, none of those things change minds as much as coming out to those who know you, letting them see that we are not monsters, that we are the people they’ve known and worked with and lived beside and loved for years.”

My partner and I looked at one another.

Everything he said was true. I had always been out with my co-workers. No public announcements, no banners or rainbow flags decorated my desk, and June was most notable for the birthday I share with my baby sister. I just never tiptoed around pronouns, and never hesitated to mention my partner by name. If anyone ever had an issue with my sexuality, it has never been mentioned in my hearing.

But the other, darker side of his comments brought home a truth that we don’t always like to acknowledge – that those of us who are out often look with disdain at those who are still closeted. Like my partner.

I get that those who put themselves out there might feel some resentment toward those who aren’t out. The risk takers pave the way for the rest. I truly believe that. Visibility leads to acceptance. Just look at the speed at which marriage equality is gaining ground; and with the increased visibility of gay and lesbian athletes and celebrities, there is greater acceptance.

But the harsh truth is that many of us still work and live in areas where being out could cost us – our jobs, our families, even our lives. This is as true now as it was twenty or thirty years ago.

Education is one area where LGBT folk still have to tread carefully. Just in the past year, a handful of teachers have been fired in a few states when someone found obituaries and marriage notices on-line that listed them as having a same-sex partner. They didn’t bring their private lives to work. They didn’t intend to come out. They were outed and it cost them their livelihoods.

When my partner and I got married in 2012 to celebrate our twentieth anniversary, my co-workers had a reception for us, complete with a cake with two brides on top. It meant the world to us that they were so accepting, but that happiness was tinged with a little bit of sadness that she had no one at her work with whom she felt she could share her happiness, even as the entire office got involved with the pending weddings of two of her straight co-workers.

SHE SINGS_eBookSo, as we celebrate Pride month, and as parades are held and new court decisions are handed down moving us closer to nation-wide marriage equality, let’s not forget that our work is far from over. Until people everywhere no longer have to fear coming out, those of us who are fortunate enough to be out will have to be their shield. Rather than telling them to go home, I think I would say, “Stand behind us, and when the time is right, come stand with us.”

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9 thoughts on “Pride Blog Series Day 16 – Caren Werlinger

  1. Pingback: Pride Blog Series Lineup! | The Liz McMullen Show

  2. My partner is also in the closet at work while I have not hidden my sexuality. Its very difficult for both of us as I am sure it is for the two of you.

    There are none of the freedoms her straight co-workers take for granted and she has to hide who and what she is, living almost in fear lest she be fired or ridiculed. I am her roommate (and have been for the past 12 years) and as such I can not be myself when we go to social outings where they will be.

    Even though I know we are not the only couple who have to hide, it is nice to know who others are.

    Thank you very much for sharing!

    ~Ameliah Faith

    • You’re definitely not alone, Ameliah. It’s hard, I think, for some folks to imagine not being able to speak openly, or have photos on your desk, or to have to always go to work functions alone, but that is still the reality for many of us. Thank you for commenting.

  3. It is truly sad that in today’s society that anyone has to hide their relationship, yet we do…that is how Lorraine “Happy a Lesbian Housewife” Howell was born. When I first started writing, my partner was a bit worried about being exposed at work, as was I. Now some of the fear has waned but I’ll be totally honest…not all of it! Maybe someday we can all just be who we are. Won’t that be a glorious day? Thank you for sharing!

    • I completely understand your hesitation, Shelia. Even though I was out, it was a completely different feeling publishing my first novel under my name. It was something we definitely had to talk about. And you’re right, it will be a glorious day!

  4. I find it especially horrific when long time teachers lose their jobs over this, but also heartwarming to see the outpouring of support from their students and alumni of the schools. I particularly like your “stand behind us….” comment.

    I really enjoyed the 2 books of yours that I have and look forward to reading more of your work. Thanks Caren for this post and your books, and thank you Liz for what you do here.


    • Thanks, cw (nice initials!). It has warmed my heart as well to see the students, parents and alums of those schools stand up for the dismissed teachers. Unfortunately, the administrators have not been so open-minded or willing to change their stance. Thanks also for letting me know you’ve enjoyed my books – that always brightens a day!

  5. It breaks my heart that the world is the way that it is. There is still so much to do in order to make people see that everyone is equal. No one on this planet should live in fear and deserves to live a happy life. Why others have to make life so difficult is beyond me. I’m looking forward to the day when I won’t see the words “gay marriage” or “gay couple” etc. because it’s just “marriage” and “couple.” That’s all I see and that’s all my future children will see.

    • Thank you, Maya. Despite how much there is still to do, it is heartening to see young people like you standing up to speak out. Hopefully, things will be different by the time your children are growing up. For a terrific perspective on the history of Pride, check out Andi Marquette’s blog from 22 June. I’m sure it will feel like ancient history to some, but for many of us, it was just yesterday.

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